NaNoWriMo Chronicles: Character Creation

Characters, one of the three primary parts of a story. They tend to be complicated. Sometimes they come easily and are quickly developed as if they were as natural and real as the physical people in your life. Other times they are hard to design and fight against being brought into the light. Either way, they are deeply important to the quality and movement of your work. Well-rounded characters can save a story with a underdeveloped plot, and poorly designed characters can kill the most wonderful of story arcs.

As I’ve stated many times at this point, I almost always start with character development when writing. It’s the part that comes naturally to me, and even when they fight me, I enjoy building characters more than most other parts of a work. Often times, my love of the characters are what push me through telling a story. My desire to allow them to speak through me and the words I put together for them overcomes any dry spells I may have. All that being said, let’s take a look at the two parts of my character creation process that help me outline even the most stubborn of characters.

Part One - Layering

Characters should be complex things. Unless they are meant to be a flat character (more on that later this week) they should be well understood and function much like a normal person, with all the quirks and misgivings of a true being. This starts with knowing that your characters should have layers. If they are a primary character then they should have lots and lots of layers.

This first method helps you to start planning out some of these layers. I will use a character from my work last year as an example to help explain each piece of this first part.

  • A Gameshow Style Intro

    • This should be a little anecdotal but include important aspects of your character.

    • Example: “A serious clan ruler who’s goal is to create security and stability for his clan.”

  • Break Down the Intro

    • This is where you break down all the parts of the intro you just wrote. Work word by word, section by section. Look at it as closely as you can.

    • Example:

    • Why is he serious?

      • He became the ruling High-Kin when he was young, after losing both his parents when they were going on a trip to visit the --- clan and were killed while passing through the – clan. He has since taken the goal of having a united, stable clan that his parents were fighting for upon himself.

    • What does it mean that he is a clan ruler?

      • He is the ruling High-Kin, which means he is a king within his clan. While he does have the authority that a   king does, he does have to answer to the Elder Council, which is a group of heads of the oldest families in the clan.

    • How will he create this security and stability for his clan?

      • His first goal is to try and unite the two people groups living within the borders of his clan, both the Rothdarii and the Skrit peoples together stand a better chance of bringing a lasting peace to the turbulent clan. He does this by bringing in Grete as his High-Matron. Second, he wants to find a way to unite his clan with the Randarii so their two clans can be united against the Keinsdarii. Lastly he seeks to find allies to the east with the three clans that have been cut off from the others due to the natural boundaries.

  • Basic Info and Story Role

    • This consists of five parts: name, age, motivation, a single sentence on their role in the story, and a paragraph on their role in the story.

    • Example:

      • Name: Naresh Drakken

      • Age: 46

      • Motivation: He is motivated by a desire to protect both his clan and those he cares for. He was raised to be a king and therefore lives according to that role in many ways acting as a father and husband not just to Grete, but to his clan as well.

      • Single Sentence: Naresh is the deuteragonist in Among the Sands, he is meant to help the protagonist, Grete through her emotional and physical plot arc while also acting as her love interest.

      • Single Paragraph: Naresh is the catalyst that pushes Grete into choosing to walk through her ‘doorway’ and becomes the physical embodiment of what she is striving for. He commits to fighting for Grete as well as the future of his clan as if they are one and same. He demonstrates himself willing to hand himself over to death first for his clan and a second time for Grete in the final climax of the story arc.

While this part seems rather technical, it is important and will help you to work through the second part where you work more towards developing the personality of your characters. Knowing what drives them and their role in the story you are trying to tell can help you shape them to be the best for their part.

Part Two - Character Profile

There are two places that I go for character profiles. The first is, which I listed as one of my tools for NaNoWriMo, one of the reasons being the wonderful character profiles. They even have a ‘misc’ section at the end where you can place your layers from the above exercise!

The second is ‘The Novel Factory’. Which is a wonderful resource for new writers (it’s where I first learned about the layering part for characters) and offers lots and lots of information to use when you are working on a novel. I highly, highly suggest them!

There are a few things to keep in mind when filling out character profiles:

  • The more you fill out, the more the reader will feel the fullness of your character. If a character is a well-crafted individual to the writer, it will show when you read the story. The point of a character profile is to make them real to you. Even if the information you write down will never see the light of day, it’s information that is good for you to know.

  • You don’t have to fill out every box. If there is something on a profile that just really, really has you stumped - move past it. You can always come back to it if you think of something later, but leaving an empty box on a page isn’t the end of the world.

  • You characters NEED to have flaws. They can’t be perfect. They can’t be wonderful and good at everything they do. They need to have failings, fears, and struggles. Make sure you give them those - they deserve to have those. They deserve to have a place to grow from. Don’t stagnate them by making them perfect.

Character creation can be very daunting and complicated. But, if you are anything like me, they can become the best part of what you write about. They can become as close as friends to you. They can be what pushes you to finish the work you started. Just, try to enjoy the process.

Keep creating!